With so many weird and outright horrible stories regarding the NFL this offseason, it's good to talk to those NFL players who just make you feel better about the game. Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman is most definitely one of those people. Not only did Tillman have perhaps the best season of his 10-year career -- he forced 10 fumbles and returned all three of his interceptions for touchdowns -- but he continued to reach out to the community in ways that were informed by the heart transplant his young daughter, Tiana, underwent in 2008. To that end, Tillman has partnered with Allstate in the "Give it Up For Good" Initiative, which he explains below. On or off the field, Tillman is one of the best in the game.
Shutdown Corner: I wanted to start with the amazing story about your daughter, Tiana, who had open heart surgery in 2008, when she was just an infant. How's she doing now?
Charles Tillman: She's doing great! To sum it up in a few words, she was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy in 2008. On July 31st, 2008, she received a heart transplant. Since then, she's taking her meds, there's no rejection, and it will be five years since the transplant in a couple of weeks. She's awesome.
SC: I was watching a video of you on the Allstate site, and when it came around to you talking about the family of the donor, you got a little choked up. Understandably so. And that goes to your desire to help people in hospitals, and in the Chicago community, and the Allstate "Give it Up For Good" Initiative. What did the experience with your daughter teach you about the importance of giving back?
CT: Just the random acts of kindness ... the donor's mother is Magali Garcia. What she did, to take a complete stranger, when it was her hardest hour, and she had to make a choice to let her son, Armando, go. Her decision saved my daughter's life, and the lives of other children in the area. She could have been selfish and stingy and completely shut off. She could have been in a bad place. But she wasn't -- she was in a good place, and she made an unselfish decision and saved my daughter's life. She's an unsung hero. You don't hear about her because she doesn't have this platform of being a professional athlete, or a singer, or an actress, or anything like that. But she is a person who gave something extraordinary. She's a very selfless woman, and I thank her for that. That's why we partnered with Allstate to come up with this idea for ""Give it Up For Good." Basically, it's giving other people out there the opportunity to express the good that they've done, or they can highlight the good that others have done. You can post your story or video on the website, or tweet about it with the hashtag, #giveitupforgood, and talk about the good that others are doing.
SC: You've met Mrs. Garcia, correct?
CT: Yes, I had the honor of meeting her (on the Oprah show, which you can see here). It was very emotional, and my whole thing was that I just wanted to thank her. I don't know what it's like to lose a child, so I don't know what she went through. I can only imagine. To give that gift to complete strangers. It was just one of those moments, where ... I thanked her, and I gave her the biggest hug. I said, 'Thank God for you,' because my daughter's still here because of her and the grace of God. I'm very thankful and appreciative for what she did.
SC: That's amazing. Moving to football, there have obviously been a lot of changes with the Bears. Marc Trestman replaces Lovie Smith, Brian Urlacher is gone, you guys will have a new offensive blueprint. With Lovie Smith, who was a defensive coach and a player's coach, and you guys have had that great defense for so long. What effect did Coach Smith have on you as a player and as a person?
CT: The effect he had on me as a player was that he challenged me to be better than everybody else at my position. He told me to be bold and brave, and I just thank him for that. Whatever I did well, he challenged me to do it again, and again, and again. His standards for me were extremely high, and things he asked me to do ... sometimes I succeeded, and sometimes I failed. But in the end, I think he was pleased with how I responded overall. As a person, he was a guy I would call for advice. When my daughter was in the hospital, he was the first one there. Him and our defensive coordinator, Bob Babich. He wasn't just a coach; he is a great man and a great person, and there was a friendship involved as well.
SC: Are you surprised that another NFL team hasn't hired him?
CT: Yes, I am -- I definitely am surprised. But looking at how things are going, a lot of teams were hiring offensive-minded head coaches. That's not to say he shouldn't have a job, but I just think that's how the league is going.
SC: Let's talk about your 2012 season. I was watching the All-22 of your games against Calvin Johnson, which I'm sure you like talking about, since you shut him down pretty well. And especially in your case, where you switch sides a lot to stay on the opposing #1 receiver ... what is it about the mentality of the best cornerbacks that works? You, Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman ... the guys who can shut the best receivers down pretty consistently game after game? It seems like a fairly impossible thing to do.
CT: You have to have the ability to reset. What I mean by that is, whether it's a good play or a bad play, you have to hit the reset button right away. 'Oh, I got a pick' -- reset button. 'Oh, he burned me for a touchdown' -- reset button. No matter what happens, you have to have that ability. I'm not going to say that I've mastered it, but I've gotten pretty good at it. Because, let's face it -- you're going to give up touchdowns. It happens. You have to say, 'Hey -- he made a good play, I was in the best possible position, the quarterback made a great throw, it was an awesome catch...' But when it happens, hit the reset button and move on to the next play. If you let that one play drag on [in your head]. it leads to two, and three, and then, they have another touchdown. You give up another touchdown, and they're torching you. You have to have mental toughness, and I define that as your ability to be at your best on command. You just have to have that mindset.
SC: Two things that stand out to me about your game, in some contrast to some of the other best corners. A lot of those guys play press coverage to a large degree, where you're equally effective in off-coverage. Then, of course, there's not only your tackling, but your ability to target in and force fumbles -- 10 of those in 2012. How long did it take you to become that complete cornerback?
CT: I think it just goes with our defense. I mean, you look at [fellow cornerback] Tim Jennings, and I could talk for hours about him...
SC: That was my next question!
CT: He's the same way. With our defense, it's how the system works -- you have to make plays, and you have to tackle. You have to be able to hit a big tailback coming off the edge -- you know, that's what we do. We're not just cover corners, and we're required to tackle in the open field.
SC: So, let's talk about Mr. Jennings. You get thrown to the top receiver a lot, but you still get targeted a lot, because he's so good, as well.
CT: With us, it's 'pick your poison.' If it's a big receiver, I'll take him. If it's a shorter, quicker receiver, Tim will take him. That helps us out in that we really complement each other. I take the bigger guys, he takes the smaller guys, and it works out well for both of us.
SC: What are your thoughts on the new wave of shutdown corners? Who do you watch these days and say, 'I really like the way he plays the game?'
CT: I'm a fan of Revis. I like his footwork, and his ball-hawking ability. He s got a lot of 'make-up' speed, so if he does make a mistake, his feet allow him to catch up to the receiver. He's got really good hand-eye coordination, so when the ball's in the air, he goes and attacks it. The attitude he seems to have is that the ball is his when it's in the air. I can definitely appreciate that in another cornerback.